Devin Dawson Blends Rock Sound With Songwriter Soul

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• July 20, 2017

California native and Warner Music Nashville/Atlantic Records recording artist Devin Dawson is a songwriter at heart, infusing songs on his upcoming debut album with passionate vocals and carefully considered words.

“That’s my way of coping and communicating,” says Dawson. “It’s just something I’ve done since I was 12 years old. I feel sometimes I hide behind a song a lot with things I need to say and things I need to get out. Sometimes I’m not the best at communicating, but let me write a song…”

Dawson began pouring his soul into music when he was a teenager, listening to ’90s country music and soul songs, while playing bass in a rock band, with his brother on drums. He spent his post-high school years touring with a metal band, before following his musical ambitions to Nashville’s Belmont University in 2012.

In 2014, Dawson and fellow Belmont student Louisa Wendorff lit up the Nashville music industry’s radar after they released a video for their mash-up of two Taylor Swift tracks, “Style” and “Blank Space.” Within a day of its release, Swift had seen the video and praised it to her followers with one word: “Obsessed.”

“It really helped both of us further our paths. It helped put me in the way of publishers and [I had to ask myself who I wanted to become]. The whole idea was for me to develop and put an EP out, get some buzz and maybe get some leverage before I went to labels. Right before I signed a publishing deal.”

Devin Dawson

Dawson’s post-Swift career boost led to meeting and inking a publishing deal with Nashville super producer Jay Joyce’s Neon Cross, as well as with Warner/Chappell Music. Last year, Dawson signed a recording contract with Warner Music Nashville/Atlantic Records. Joyce signed on to produce the project.

While writing for the album, Dawson continued touring, using his hours of stage time as a testing ground for new material.

“That’s one thing people overlook a lot is playing shows is such a huge part of development. If you are writing every day, you are not out there playing for people and finding out how they react…I feel like it’s important to find the ones that are right for your record.”

During his visit to MusicRow, Dawson performed acoustic takes of four songs that made the cut, including the introspective “Secondhand Hurt,” and his debut single “All On Me.”

“All On Me,” which Dawson co-wrote with his brother Jacob Durrett and guitar player Austin Smith, finds Dawson in the role of a comforter and reassuring soul, ready to offer a safe place amid life’s stresses. Once in the studio, Dawson and his band recorded the track in one take.

“I wrote a lot of love songs for the album. I like writing love songs, which is funny because I usually write love songs about where I want to be, not where I’m at,” Dawson says candidly. “I slipped it on the record and it’s one of my favorites.”

Devin Dawson with MusicRow owner/publisher Sherod Robertson.

Last month, Dawson shot the stark black-and-white video clip for “All On Me,” evoking elements of old Hollywood film noir. The video was filmed at the Tennessee State Penitentiary, which featured prominently in the 1999 movie The Green Mile, and has become a sought-after spot for music video producers, including those behind Eric Church’s “Homeboy” and “Lightning” clips.

“The whole idea was to take this upbeat, positive love song and insert this aesthetic, this darker vibe that I love, which is really in contrast to this song,” Dawson says of “All On Me.”

Joyce and Dawson agreed to cut the album with the same live band that Dawson had been playing with since his college days at Belmont University. The group spent more than two months in the studio, sometimes for 12 hours per day.

On “Dip,” written with Barry Dean and Luke Laird, Dawson and company recorded the track twice, once with a full electric setup and again with an acoustic vibe. Joyce then set about splicing the two versions together into its own quirky mashup.

“The whole song is about leaving a party and going out the back door, so it cuts to a bluegrass version. It’s the coolest cut. I still hear something new every time I listen to it,” Dawson says.

Devin Dawson with MusicRow staffers. Pictured (L-R): Eric T. Parker, Haley Crow, Sherod Robertson, Alex Kobrick, and Jessica Nicholson.

The moody and confident stunner “Dark Horse” was written after the album was technically completed, but its strength demanded inclusion.

“I didn’t feel like the album was done until that song was done,” Dawson recalls. “It didn’t feel like it was a whole body of work.”

Dawson hopes his meticulous selection of each track on the album reveals part of who he is a musician. “I like to think I’m an album artist. I want to tell a whole story. I can’t just put an EP out and tack some singles on,” he says. “That’s how Jay works, too. He’s not going to do a single, he’s going to do the whole thing.”

Dawson recently opened for Maren Morris’ Hero Tour, and will open shows for Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, at the end of July.

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About the Author

Jessica Nicholson serves as the Managing Editor for MusicRow magazine. Her previous music journalism experience includes work with Country Weekly magazine and Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) magazine. She holds a BBA degree in Music Business and Marketing from Belmont University. She welcomes your feedback at [email protected]

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